May 28, 2023


Title issues can be a source of confusion and frustration for home buyers and sellers. A title is the legal ownership of a property and a title issue can refer to any problem that might arise in the transfer of ownership. There are many different types of title issues that can impact a property’s value or even prevent a sale altogether.

Some of the most common types of title issues include liens, easements, encroachments, and boundary disputes. In this article, we’ll explore these common types of title issues and discuss how to identify them before buying a property.

A Dive into Title Issues

What are Title Issues?

When it comes to real estate transactions, title issues can pose a significant challenge and create complications that can result in a failed deal or legal action. Title issues refer to any problem that arises with the ownership of a property or the validity of a title.

These issues can be minor, such as a misspelled name on the title, or more serious, such as a lien against the property or a missing heir. The importance of identifying title issues is critical to ensure that any problems are addressed upfront, and the transaction can proceed smoothly. Failure to properly identify and address title issues can lead to significant legal and financial repercussions down the line.

Types of Title Issues

When it comes to real estate transactions, title issues are some of the most critical obstacles to overcome. Issues with a property’s title can significantly disrupt a purchase or sale and even lead to legal complications. Here are some of the most common types of title issues:

1. Liens and Encumbrances: A lien is a legal claim placed on a property by a creditor. Encumbrances refer to any legal restrictions on a property. Both liens and encumbrances can cloud a property’s title, making it difficult to sell or transfer ownership.

2. Boundary Disputes: Often, boundary disputes arise when there are inaccuracies or discrepancies in a property’s legal description. These disputes can impede the sale or transfer of property and lead to costly legal battles.

3. Unreleased Mortgages: If a mortgage on a property has not been released or satisfied, the property’s title remains clouded. This issue can arise if a previous owner’s mortgage was not properly discharged or if the bank holding the mortgage went out of business without releasing the mortgage.

4. Errors in Public Records: Mistakes can happen, even in official public records. Clerical errors, inaccurate property descriptions, and other mistakes in public records can lead to significant issues with a property’s title.

5. Judgments and Lawsuits: If judgments or lawsuits are pending against a property, its title will remain clouded until they are resolved. Even after a case is settled, there may be additional steps required to clear the title, such as recording a satisfaction of judgment with the county clerk’s office.

It is essential to identify and resolve any title issues before entering into a real estate transaction. A title search and title insurance policy can help protect buyers and sellers from the potential risks posed by title issues. To avoid any title-related problems, it is always best to work with reputable real estate agents, attorneys, and title companies who are experienced in identifying and resolving title issues.

Common Types of Title Issues

Ownership Issues

Ownership issues are some of the most common types of title issues that can arise during real estate transactions. These disputes typically stem from conflicting interests in the property and can create legal and financial complications for both parties involved. One of the most frequent causes of ownership issues is an unclear or incomplete chain of title, which can make it difficult to identify who has the rightful claim to the property. This can occur for a variety of reasons, including mistakes in public records, incomplete or fraudulent deeds, and conflicting probate claims.

In addition to chain of title issues, disputes may arise due to claims from previous owners, boundary disputes, easements, and zoning violations. It is essential for prospective buyers to conduct a thorough title search to uncover any potential ownership issues before finalizing a transaction. This search should involve a review of public records, court records, historical tax records, and other relevant documents. Additionally, it is important to work with a qualified real estate attorney to ensure that any potential ownership issues are addressed and appropriately resolved.

Liens and Encumbrances

Liens and Encumbrances refer to claims against the property that affect its value. A lien is a legal claim against a property that gives a creditor the right to sell the property if the owner fails to pay a debt. Liens can be voluntary or involuntary, and can be created for various reasons, including unpaid taxes, unpaid mortgage payments, or unpaid contractor bills. Liens can affect the sale or transfer of a property, as they must be settled before the property can be sold or transferred.

An encumbrance, on the other hand, is a burden on the property that limits its transferability or use. Encumbrances can include easements, which grant someone else the right to use a part of the property, or restrictive covenants, which limit the use of the property in certain ways. Like liens, encumbrances can affect the value of the property and its transferability. It is important to identify liens and encumbrances before purchasing a property to avoid any unexpected expenses or legal issues.

Errors in Public Records

Errors in public records refer to inaccuracies in documents that are held by the government and affect the title of a property. These errors can include simple typos, misspelled names, or incorrect legal descriptions. They can also include filing mistakes, such as a document being recorded in the wrong county. When errors in public records occur, they can be easily overlooked, and homeowners may not even know that there is a problem until they attempt to sell their property.

Unfortunately, errors in public records can cause significant issues for property owners, as they can affect the validity of the title. In some cases, they can even lead to legal disputes over the ownership of the property. For this reason, it is important to perform a title search before purchasing a property to identify any possible errors in public records.

If an error is discovered, it is imperative to work with a qualified attorney to correct it. This may involve filing the appropriate paperwork or having a court order issued to resolve the issue. In some cases, the help of a title insurance company may be necessary to protect the property owner’s interests.

While errors in public records can be a major headache for property owners, they can be corrected with the right legal guidance. By staying vigilant and addressing any discrepancies in a timely manner, property owners can protect their investment and avoid potentially costly legal disputes.

Boundary and Survey Issues

Boundary and Survey Issues refer to disputes over property lines and survey errors that can affect the ownership of a property. These types of title issues can arise when the boundaries of a property are not clearly defined or when there is a dispute between neighboring landowners. Survey errors can occur when the land surveyor makes mistakes while measuring the property, resulting in incorrect boundary lines.

Boundary and survey issues can also arise when there is an overlap in property lines or when a property owner illegally encroaches on their neighbor’s land. It is important to identify these types of issues before finalizing a property purchase to avoid disputes and unexpected costs in the future. Property buyers can request a survey of the property to identify any potential boundary and survey issues. They can also consult with a real estate attorney to review the property’s legal description and ensure that it accurately reflects the boundaries of the property.

Undisclosed Heirs

Undisclosed heirs present a significant challenge to property ownership as they are heirs that are not known to exist at the time of the original owner’s death but may have a claim to the property. This type of title issue can arise when an individual dies intestate or does not list all heirs in their will. The existence of an undisclosed heir only comes to light when a current owner attempts to sell the property, and the heir claims the property should have passed down to them.
The legal process to address this issue can be lengthy and expensive and may require additional search efforts to identify all potential heirs. To avoid potential legal battles over ownership, it’s essential to conduct a thorough search for heirs and compile all relevant evidence of ownership before purchasing a property.

Forgery and Fraud

Forgery and fraud are illegal actions that can affect the title of a property. In the context of real estate, forgery occurs when false documents or signatures are used to transfer ownership of a property without the knowledge or consent of the rightful owner. On the other hand, fraud takes place when individuals misrepresent themselves or provide false information in order to gain ownership of a property. Additionally, fraud may occur when an individual claims ownership of a property they do not actually own or when fraudulent liens are placed against a property.

There are several ways to identify forgery and fraud in the title of a property, including examining the history of ownership, investigating any suspicious or unusual transactions related to the property, and verifying the authenticity of signatures and legal documents. In some cases, it may also be necessary to involve law enforcement officials or legal professionals to investigate the matter.

It is important to be vigilant when dealing with real estate transactions and titles in order to avoid falling victim to forgery or fraud. By working with reputable professionals and conducting thorough research, it is possible to prevent these issues from arising and protect the integrity of the property title.

How to Identify Title Issues

Title Search

The process of researching the history of a property’s title, also known as a title search, is essential when buying or selling real estate. During a title search, several potential title issues can be uncovered, such as liens, encumbrances, and improper ownership transfer. It is important to identify these issues before closing on a property to avoid any financial or legal consequences. The search typically begins with a review of public records, including deeds, mortgages, and court documents. Other sources, such as tax records, may also be consulted.

The title search is usually conducted by a title company or real estate attorney. They will use their expertise to identify any issues that could have a negative impact on the property’s title. Once the search is complete, the buyer can purchase title insurance to protect against any unforeseen title issues.

Title Insurance

One of the most vital components of a real estate transaction is title insurance. Title insurance is a type of insurance that safeguards buyers’ interests in a property by ensuring that the title is genuine and that there are no conflicting claims.
Title problems may arise due to a variety of reasons, including making a mistake in the property’s legal description, incorrect indexing at the county clerk’s office, or undisclosed claims or liens against the property. Title insurance covers the buyer against a potential monetary loss caused by any title issues.

It is critical to have title insurance in the event of a dispute over the property’s ownership, as it provides a layer of security against any financial liabilities that may arise from the conflict. A buyer can purchase title insurance either through a title company or an attorney’s office. It is highly recommended that any real estate transaction be accompanied by title insurance to protect against any potential legal complications and safeguard the buyer’s investment.

Professional Assistance

When dealing with title issues, seeking professional assistance from a real estate attorney or title company can be crucial. These professionals possess the knowledge and expertise required to navigate any title issues that may arise during a property transaction.

A real estate attorney can review title documents and conduct a title search to identify any potential problems with the property’s title. They can also provide legal advice and guidance when interpreting complex legal documents related to the title.

A title company, on the other hand, can provide title insurance to protect against financial loss due to any unknown title defects that surface after the property purchase. They are also capable of facilitating the title transfer and ensuring that all legal requirements are met. Professional assistance can help ensure that the title is clear and free of any liens or other encumbrances that can lead to unforeseen legal and financial issues in the future.

Title Issues FAQs

What are some common types of title issues?

Some common types of title issues include: unpaid property taxes, liens, unpaid mortgages, encroachments, and incorrect legal descriptions.

How can I identify a title issue?

A title search can reveal any potential issues with a property’s title, along with any liens or outstanding debts that may create problems for the sale of the property. Additionally, a title insurance policy can offer protection against any discrepancies in the title.

What is a title search?

A title search is a process in which a title company or attorney searches the public records for any liens, unpaid taxes, or other problems that may affect the title of a property. This helps ensure that a clear title is being conveyed during a real estate transaction.

What is title insurance?

Title insurance is a policy that provides protection from any defects or discrepancies in the title of a property. This includes issues such as unpaid taxes, liens, and other potential problems that could arise during a real estate transaction.

What is an encumbrance on a title?

An encumbrance is any claim or liability that may affect the title to a property. This could include liens, mortgages, or other debts that have not been paid or discharged.

What is a cloud on title?

A cloud on title is any issue that may affect the title to a property and raise doubts about who the rightful owner of the property is. This could include disputes over ownership, conflicting legal descriptions, or other issues that may require resolution before a sale can take place.

About the Author

As a native Washingtonian, Carlos Reyes’ journey in the real estate industry began more than 15 years ago when he started an online real estate company. Since then, he’s helped more than 700 individuals and families as a real estate broker achieve their real estate goals across Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.

Carlos now helps real estate agents grow their business by teaching business fundamentals, execution, and leadership.

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